While you wander through the medina of any city in Morocco, no matter how large or small, it’s impossible not to be distracted by the countless shops as far as the eye can see. Colorful plush rugs, hand woven blankets, leather bags of every shape and size, fragrant spices – you’ll need an extra suitcase just to get everything home!
And while you can get most of these treasures at amazing prices, those prices don’t come easily. You’ll need to do a lot of negotiating and endure a fair bit of hassle. There are no prices listed on any items and when you ask they’ll offer a starting price that is at least twice as much as it should be. Read on to learn how to figure out what things should cost and how to get them for the price you want.
- A “souq” or “souk” is the name given to the markets in Morocco. The tourist souks where you’ll find a variety of treasures are generally inside of the old city walls.
- The currency in Morocco is the Moroccan Dirham (Dhs). At the time of writing (March of 2018) the conversion rate was about 9.25 Dhs to $1 USD. We’ll be referring to costs in Moroccan Dirham in this post. So if something costs 100 Dhs, that’s just about $11 USD.
- Be sure you have cash! Very few vendors accept credit cards.
- If you want to ask how much something costs, in French you would say “combien ça coûte?” and in Arabic “bekam di?”
The shipping costs in Morocco are charged per kilo. We’ve made many, many, many shipping mistakes in the past due to improper packaging that have led to broken treasures. So instead we decided to ship only non-breakable goods this time. You’ll need to fill out a shipping form which is in French but basically you’ll just list the destination address, the return address (just put your riad), and the contents of the package.
We attempted to track down a cardboard box which we found challenging. They only sell very small boxes at the post office and no one we asked seemed to have any idea where to get one. Instead we ended up buying a blue tarp-like shipping bag that we stuffed full and then taped up tight. This solution would not be ideal for shipping anything fragile.
Into our blue bag went 3 leather poufs, 3 leather purses (one was luggage-sized), and one large woven blanket. The total weight was 7.3 kilos (16 lbs) and the cost to ship was 815 Dhs ($89 USD). So around 112 Dhs per kilo to ship to the state of Tennessee in the United States (that’s about $5.50 USD per pound).
How to Figure out the “Real” Price
You’ll find that very few things that you can purchase in Morocco are unique. The same bags, rugs, and blankets are sold in pretty much every store, in every souk, in every town in Morocco. There are variations of course, in color and in quality, but due to the sheer number of similar items being sold it’s pretty easy to figure out what items should cost.
Before you actually buy anything, spend a day price checking. You’ll find that the shops near busy main squares are generally more expensive while shops down little side alleyways are generally cheaper. They pay more in rent and pass the costs on to the consumer. Don’t start negotiating yet, just get a lay of the land.
For instance, it is very popular to purchase colorful woven beach towels with poms on the ends in Essaouira. If you price check them near the square, you’ll find that the initial asking price is 120 Dhs (~$13). But the further you wander into the souk, the more the price drops. First to 100 Dhs, and finally to 80 Dhs (which was my final purchase price).
I prefer to check the price of an item with at least 4 shop owners prior to beginning my negotiations.
Negotiating in Morocco is expected and welcomed. You’ll notice that prices are not listed on any items (even in the small food markets in the souks) so you’ll have to ask the store owner how much any item that you’re interested in purchasing will cost. You may notice that it takes them a moment to give a price – they are probably sizing you up. We had several shop owners tell us that they charge a price that is 3 times higher to “old people with money”.
You’ll also notice that the price comes down quite a bit as soon as you say no and start to walk away. They’ll call after you “how much you pay?” “I give you special price!”
Successful Negotiation Tactics
- Walk away (or at least pretend to begin walking away)
- Have a number in your mind that you are willing to spend (as well as a number that you are NOT willing to spend)
- Counter offer with a price that is about half of their initial offering price
- Have fun with it!
- Don’t buy from anyone who is overly aggressive or rude
Let’s say the price starts at 400 Dhs (~$43 USD) and you counter at 200 Dhs. You’ll be able to tell almost immediately how far on or off you are. If they pretend to be offended but continue with negotiations, you can probably end up somewhere in the middle, say around 300 Dhs. If they just shake their head “no” and pay you no more mind, they probably aren’t very interested in budging.
Every shop owner will give you some spiel about anything you pick up. “This is good quality, camel leather” or “this is handmade”. Don’t believe what you hear. You’ll need to do a thorough check yourself.
The leather used in Morocco generally comes from one of four sources; camel, cow, sheep, or goat. Most of the leather purses and poofs being sold in the shops are made of cow leather even though they’ll often say otherwise. Feel the softness of the leather and what happens to it when you crease it. They use simple vegetable oil to darken the color of the leather so it’s easy to make a piece darker if you don’t like the color.
- Stitching – be sure that the stitching is not coming out near the edges and that all knots are secure
- Lining – many of the bags in Morocco are lined with this patterned, textured, cheap material that doesn’t seem like it would hold up to wear and tear. If you want the bag anyway, be sure to negotiate a good price as you may need to get it re-lined.
- Pockets – make sure they open correctly and check their lining
- Zippers and hardware – check to make sure all zippers work and that snaps close correctly
This one came home with me…
What to Buy
These embroidered leather cushions are a popular souvenir to buy in Morocco as they can be unstuffed and can pack down small to fit in your luggage. They are also sold in quaint boutiques in the US for about 6 times the price you’ll pay here.
The price for a pouf varies based on quality and size. The smaller, colored poufs will run you about 150 Dhs while the larger, brown leather poufs with embroidery will run around 300 Dhs. If you don’t like the color it is easy for them to darken it with oil (but not lighten).
If you don’t have room in your bag, Amazon has a similar, reasonably priced option.
The size and quality of leather bags in Morocco varies wildly so it’s incredibly difficult to give any guidance as to what you should expect.
I bought a bag today – it has a removable strap so it can be a clutch or a cross-body bag. The leather is in a crisscross pattern and it is probably 12″ wide by 6″ tall. When I first saw it the price was quoted as being 350 Dhs. When I returned later in the day there was another man working at the shop and he quoted me 700 Dhs (twice as much for the exact same bag). I scoffed and walked away with him yelling lower numbers at me. We finally settled on 200 Dhs.
So, is it worth 350 Dhs? Or 700? Or 200? I felt like I got a good deal, but I’m fairly certain I overpaid. But as long as both you and the shop owner are happy at the end of the transaction, who really cares?
I purchased only one of these soft, vibrant, massive blankets with poms on each end but wished I had the room to buy 10 more. We found that the price often started at 400 Dhs (~$43 USD) for a 6’x6′ blanket but most vendors weren’t interested in negotiating any lower than 320 Dhs. You’ll primarily find these in the souks in Marrakech and Essaouira.
Moroccan Wedding Blankets
These beautiful blankets are white in color and are hand sewn with fringe and small, round ornamental pieces. They are made in small mountain villages and are generally given to women in celebration of their wedding day.
A beginning price for a wedding blanket that is 3’x6′ in size will be around 2,000 Dhs ($218 USD). And you’re unlikely to find any shop owners willing to negotiate lower than 1,300 Dhs for an intricately woven, high quality blanket. If you opt for one that is not as intricate, you may be able to get down to 700 Dhs.
If that is out of your price range, purchase a pillow made of the same material instead. I picked up a quality pillow case that was about 16″x16″ for 250 Dhs.
If you search for a Moroccan wedding blanket on Amazon, you’ll find that prices are exorbitant and there aren’t very many to choose from. So if you really want one, pick it up in Morocco rather than waiting until you get back home.
You can purchase rugs of every shape, size, and quality in Morocco. It would be impossible to give an idea of what rug prices should be since they are so dependent on size and quality. Just be sure to take your time, shop around, ask a lot of questions, and don’t feel pressured into buying anything you’re not 100% comfortable with. Even if they’ve dragged out 1,000 rugs for you to look through and you’ve accepted their offer of tea, you’re not obligated to buy a thing.
If you purchase an expensive rug and have them ship it to your home, you may want to pay with a credit card so you can challenge the charge if anything goes wrong.
If you love cooking, you’ll love the variety of inexpensive spices that you can pick up in Morocco! Just don’t forget that the prices on these are not fixed so negotiate before agreeing to a price.
Argan oil is immensely popular in Morocco and you’ll see women sitting on the front step of cosmetic shops crushing kernels of the argan tree into a paste. These shops are primarily staffed by women and sell everything from soaps to lotions to shampoos and every other aid for your hair and skin.
You can purchase products that contain argan oil or you can simply purchase a bottle of pure oil. It’s great for your hair and your skin!
Large painted ceramic bowls and plates are all over Morocco. You’ll see them in all of the souks and also in many restaurants you’ll be dining in on your trip. The most basic ones are painted in a floral design and the more intricate plates include decorative metal pieces.
A large serving plate will run you probably 200-300 Dhs in Morocco or around $35 on Amazon. Considering how challenging they are to get home without damaging, this may be one that’s worth buying online rather than in the souk.
Huge, intricate metal lamps hang from the ceilings of riads, hotels, and restaurants and will have you dying to take one home with you. They come in every shape and size and crowd the walls and ceilings of many shops in the souks. When they turn all of the lights on you will be amazed by their brilliance.
But these lamps don’t come cheap. The starting price of a small hanging lamp is around 400 Dhs (~$43 USD) and the sky is the limit for how high the price will go from there.
If you prefer to wait until you get home to find your perfect Moroccan lamp, there are only a few options on Amazon and they are quite expensive. In fact, if you really want to get a deal on a lamp you should plan a vacation in Egypt and pick one up there!
You’ll find an assortment of colorful baskets with lids as well as embroidered beach bags made of basket material all over the souks of Morocco. You’ll notice that prices start high, around 300 Dhs ($33 USD), and then begin falling rapidly as you walk away. You’ll likely be able to get the price below 100 Dhs without too much effort.
Where to Buy It
You’ll find the largest selection and the best prices in the souks of Marrakech. But with that comes more hassle and much more aggressive men. If you are looking for a more easygoing and enjoyable experience, head to Essaouira on the coast. You may pay a bit more but you’ll most certainly have a better time.
If you are looking to purchase leather, then Fes is the place to go. You can see (and smell) the men in action in the tanneries. There are also many small workshops where you can actually watch the goods being made. While it’s a cool experience to witness, you won’t find much of a difference in price here than in other souks around the country.
Keep in mind that if you find something you love deep in the middle of any souk, it may be difficult to find it again. Take one of their business cards or mark the GPS on your map if you want to think about it and go back later.
Different cities carry different treasures so if you find something you love, don’t move on to a new city expecting to be able to find it there. Just buy it or you’ll regret it later!
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